I grew up in the 1970s when people started taking package holidays to sunny places like Greece. As a result mousaka started to be served at dinner parties and British gardeners, my mother amongst them, tried to grow aubergines in hot houses or sun porches. Nowadays mousaka is a bit passé, but you can still find delicious mousaka in Greece. The best I ever tasted was on the Greek island of Karpathos. I won't even comment on what passes for mousaka here in Turkey.
A friend of mine keeps badgering me for my mousaka recipe and I had to reply that I don't really use a recipe, I just throw it together. I made mousaka tonight and this is roughly how I did it using the ingredients to hand. I didn't have any red wine although that is a nice addition. I also used chilli flakes rather than the more authentic cinnamon or allspice because my husband loves chilli.
300 gr minced beef
3 large mushrooms
1 large clove garlic
half a small onion grated (you can add more but I'm not over keen on onion)
tomatoe purée to taste
a quarter of a can of chopped tomatoes
pinch chilli flakes
thyme to taste (or oregano if you prefer)
One large aubergine or two skinny aubergines
200 ml milk
grated cheese to taste
Slice aubergine lengthways into fairly thin slices and place on a plate, sprinkle with salt and leave for at least 20 minutes.
Heat the oven to 180 C/gas 4/350F
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan. Brown the meat, being careful to break it up so it doesn't go lumpy. Add grated onion and chopped garlic clove and continue to fry for a few minutes. Add mushrooms and fry until soft, stirring. Add tomato purée. Season with chill, thyme, salt and pepper. If the mixture is rather liquid, stir in a little flour before adding tomatoes.
Now make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in the pan. Remove from the heat and gradually stir in the flour until you have no lumps. Stir in a little of the milk and beat well before adding more milk. When all the milk is added and your mixture is smooth return to a low heat and stir until thickened. Finally add the seasoning and grated cheese.
Wash the salted aubergine slices and put them on kitchen paper to drain. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan, fry the slices in batches if necessary, drain again on paper.
Now assemble the mousaka. Butter a dish. I used a round dish 21cm in diameter. Place half the meat mixture in the bottom. Cover with a layer of aubergine slices. Add the rest of the meat and cover again with remaining aubergine slices. Top with cheese sauce. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. Check after 30 minutes because some varieties of cheese burn quickly. You may need to cover the top with foil.
Serve with salad and crusty bread. The salad I made to accompany this mousaka could not compete with Uncle Mustafa's (see previous post) and remained unphotographed.